20 March 2018, Abu Dhabi: Serbian volleyball star Vladimir Grbić admits he didn’t know what to expect when he first visited the Special Olympics seven years ago.

The former player, who retired in 2009 after 242 matches for the Serbian national team, said attending the 2011 Special Olympics Summer Games in Athens, Greece, helped to change the way he looks at sport and the world.

“I didn’t know anything about the Special Olympics until I was invited to Athens. I didn’t know what to expect at first but when I came I saw the world in a more realistic way of professional sport,” said the 6ft 4in tall athlete, who is nicknamed ‘Vanja’.

On Monday he visited Abu Dhabi to take part in a unified volleyball match at the Special Olympics IX MENA Games 2018 alongside Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International, and Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics.

As the Special Olympics Volleyball Ambassador, Vladimir is proud to play his part in spreading the word about the Games.

“Most athletes are fighting for the prestige, budget, results, and for the medals, but these athletes don’t. For them this is not about medals and victory, it’s about cheering each other on during the game, feeling good, and doing activities.

“For them to have these opportunities is like winning an Olympic gold. Their passion reminds me of how I felt when I was a young boy and the real nature of having the Olympic spirit and sport. We have a lot to learn from them.”

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About the 2019 Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi (AD2019)
The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, scheduled for March 14-21, will be the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world, with 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing more than 170 countries. The World Games will be an unprecedented display of the spirit, joy, courage and skill that are hallmarks of Special Olympics movement. The largest single event ever held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the first Special Olympics World Games in the Middle East and North Africa, the World Games features 24 officially sanctioned Olympic-style sports in venues throughout Abu Dhabi. The spectacular opening ceremony on March 14 is expected to attract 45,000 spectators while being viewed by millions worldwide via global broadcast partners ESPN and Abu Dhabi Media.

Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the 2019 World Games will be the most unified Special Olympics competition in history, with inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in every aspect of the event. The Games are the most visible component of a planned series of initiatives by Abu Dhabi and the UAE to expand opportunity for people of determination (with intellectual disabilities), and to promote inclusion and understanding throughout the emirate, nation, and region. Plans for operation of the World Games include leaving a legacy of improved health, education, and inclusion that will benefit the UAE long after the event is over.